Khari Wynn's Enemy Alliance

When Khari Wynn joined hip-hop pioneers Public Enemy in 2002, he knew he had a major challenge on his hands. The Memphis-based musician was used to playing in guitar-focused jazz acts such as Solstice and Auditory Underground. In contrast, Public Enemy required him to modify his lead-guitar role by incorporating minimalist rhythm guitar and subtle textural work. The mercurial nature of Wynn’s contributions result from the fact Public Enemy’s live backing trio—which includes bassist Brian Hardgroove and drummer Mike Faulkner—sits atop layers of vocals, samples, and rhythm loops.

“One of your main goals as a musician in Public Enemy is to give Chuck D, Flavor Flav, and Professor Griff something to rap over,” says Wynn. “As a guitarist, you sometimes feel a natural inclination to fill up the soundscape, but when you play with Public Enemy, you have to resist those tendencies in order to give every element the right amount of space. When I play with them, I have to determine exactly where the guitar sits within the group’s layers of sound, and then decide whether to add rhythm riffs, or melodic or harmonic stuff.”

Incorporating live guitar into songs originally constructed from samples of guitar tracks is another hurdle Wynn had to overcome.

“Integrating what I do into classic Public Enemy tracks such as ‘Rebel Without a Pause’ required me to spend a great deal of time wading through the layers of sound in the recorded versions,” explains Wynn, who currently plays a Schecter C-1. “When I listened really carefully, I realized that buried within the track were these really cool, double-stop rhythm guitar samples. However, like a lot of their stuff, the pitch and key was changed, so I had to figure that out, and transpose the parts to my instrument.”

Newer material that Wynn has actually recorded with Public Enemy—including the songs “Son of a Bush” and “What a Fool Believes”—has given him more influence on the group’s sound from the get go, as well as a more expansive performance platform.

“Since they incorporated the performing band, Public Enemy has become more aware of how its sound can benefit from having live instrumentation,” he says. “Now, I have the advantage of working with them in the studio to help shape songs from the ground up, and that process definitely plays a role in defining how a song sounds. It has gotten to the point where, sometimes, they’ll even build tracks off the live instruments.”